Advertisement

Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter casts doubts on financial viability of Club World Cup

Rob Baxter
Rob Baxter is cautious about the costs involved in a Club World Cup - Getty Images/Bob Bradford

Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby, has insisted that a new Club World Cup competition must be financially viable and thoroughly planned before the inaugural tournament in 2028, adding that he would otherwise be “very hesitant”.

Plans for the inaugural Club World Cup competition were unveiled this week, with the tournament starting in 2028 and featuring 16 teams over the first four weeks of June. The new tournament would take place every four years.

Exeter were Investec Champions Cup winners back in 2020 and while Baxter appreciates the appeal of the competition, he was also cautious.

Baxter said: “If someone says to me that they’ve got the finances in place to cover everyone’s finances and travel costs, there’s a TV deal that all the clubs involved get millions of pounds, and that helps all the clubs become viable, thriving businesses, then I’d say it’s exactly what the game needs.

“If, as normal, what happens is ‘lets try and give it a go and see if we can make it work, and drive some interest’ then I will be very hesitant about it. You can very easily create bigger issues in the game trying to solve issues, as we’ve seen numerous times.

“Let’s make sure it’s genuinely viable before we start adding in more competitions, more games, more travel costs. It has to be a genuinely viable interest for more people watching more rugby.

“Doing the old argument of ‘do it and the game will grow’, clubs in this country can’t take that approach. We can’t go and see if it works in four years’ time – we just can’t do that. These things have to be a little bit more genuine and ready to go before we can commit to them.”

Travel costs for teams travelling to play in the Champions Cup quarter-finals have been a hot topic this week. SA Rugby revealed they have spent just short of £175,000 to fly the Bulls coaches and staff on business class ahead of Saturday night’s quarter-final against Northampton, with Baxter adding that his side’s trip to Toulouse had cost the club “in the 10s of thousands of pounds” and wondering what the impact would therefore be on a global competition.

“The desire to try it and the opportunity to do it is completely different to trying to make it a realistic situation. If you look at things now, we are in a European competition and the costs for us from Sunday, knowing the result in France, to booking and trying to find a plane, we are taking the smallest plane we can and our costs are going to be in the 10s of thousands of pounds. That is just now in a European competition.

“Take the reality of that and make it a world competition and go, ‘right we are going to look at this, this is the funding in place and this is what is going to happen’ – as much as we might all want to do it you do have to be able to afford it. The desire from the players and the team in this country to have a format at some stage where there is a way is fantastic. There is nothing negative about interesting games of rugby is there? That is what everyone wants, but at the same time you have to make sure everyone else wants to watch it, everyone else wants to be involved in it, not just the players and the coaches.”

Asked whether the extra games created by the competition would be a player welfare issue, Baxter noted that there tends to be “a golden period” between the first few games of the season and games into the high 20s when players are less likely to get injured, with injury prevalence then rising once you enter the 30s. Baxter also stressed that the onus on managing those game numbers was on international teams as much as club sides.

“It’s always going to be a matter of balance. If that’s the way it works, that 30 games is about what a player with these competitions is roughly going to play, and it sits within those parameters, we’ve got to believe what we see with our own eyes,” Baxter explained.

“If you have international players it’s not just for the clubs to manage them. It’s with the international game to manage them as well. We always seem to get this wrong – whenever we come back to player welfare, the only thing that ever seems to get discussed is clubs managing players. There never seems to be any chat about international teams managing players, or what happens then, it’s always this one scenario.

“That’s the key, if you’re going to manage game totals, it has to be across the board – you can’t just pick and choose, and it’s all rest periods for clubs, that’s not viable any more.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.